E&C Committee Probes NIH for Failing to Convene Scientific Management Review Board

Washington, D.C. — House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), Subcommittee on Health Chair Brett Guthrie (R-KY), and Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations Chair Morgan Griffith (R-VA) today, in a letter to Dr. Lawrence Tabak, the senior official who is performing the duties of Director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), requested information about the NIH’s failure to convene the Scientific Management Review Board (SMRB) as required under the NIH Reform Act of 2006. The Board advises the NIH on the most effective organizational structure for NIH. 


“According to a STAT review of agency records, the SMRB, tasked with making the NIH more efficient and more effective, 'mysteriously stopped meeting seven years ago' and SMRB members do not know why. As noted by STAT, 'the de facto disappearance of the NIH’s Scientific Management Review Board, critics charge, is emblematic of the agency’s broader reluctance to accept criticism and to modernize. Some science policy experts have argued lately that the NIH operates too slowly, funds research too conservatively, and labors under a bureaucratic structure that is cumbersome and unwieldy.' Further, by not convening the SMRB, the NIH is missing opportunities to address profound scientific management concerns such as what actions NIH is taking, or needs to take, to increase support for young researchers in the NIH intramural program. 

By not convening the SMRB for the last seven years, the NIH has failed to comply with the NIH Reform Act of 2006. This law created the SMRB to provide advice on the use of organizational authorities granted to the NIH, and formally and publicly to review NIH’s organizational structure at least once every seven years. The law set out time frames for the Director to act on such recommendations and provide for review by Congress. As required by the Reform Act, SMRB has conducted public reviews of NIH’s organizational structure and processes from 2010 to 2015 but has not been convened since 2015. 

“We note from the Board’s chart posted on the NIH website, that the estimated annual cost for operating the Board, including compensation and travel expenses for members, but excluding staff support, is $167,851. The estimate of annual person-years of staff support required is 2.2 full-time equivalent employees (FTEs), at an approximate annual cost of $321,050. The total annual cost of the Board is $488,901. Without convening the SMRB as was done from 2010 to 2015, we are concerned that the NIH has diverted this funding reserved for operating and supporting the SMRB to other purposes.” 

The Chairs specifically requested the following information by March 27, 2023:

  1. Please explain why the NIH has failed to convene the SMRB since 2015. Who decided to stop convening the SMRB? When was this decision made? If the decision is in writing, please provide. If the decision is not in writing, why not? 
  2. Since the NIH has discontinued convening this board since 2015, how has the NIH used the $488,901 per year or $2,933,406 over six years?   
  3. Will the NIH return to the U.S. Treasury the more than $2.9 million in funding that was not used for operating and supporting the SMRB?  
  4. Please name the NIH staff who were originally designated to be responsible for staff support of the SMRB. What have these designated staff been working on since 2015 instead of supporting the SMRB? 
  5. Will the NIH reconvene the SMRB, and if so, when? 
  6. Can you provide a list of all recommendations voted on by the SMRB and the votes with respect to each recommendation? 
  7. For those recommendations that were supported by the SMRB, please provide the status of implementation of those recommendations. 

CLICK HERE to read the full letter.